SCOTTSDALE — Two years ago, Greg Bird won the Arizona Fall League’s MVP award, highlighting his memorable campaign with a titanic 450-foot blast in the league’s “Fall Stars Game.”
It was a sign of things to come for the first baseman, who made quite an impression during the final two months of the 2015 season while filling in for Mark Teixeira.
Bird is back in Arizona this fall, and while his numbers aren’t going to earn him any MVP votes — he’s hitting .190 with one home run in 58 at-bats — the first baseman is having the time of his life simply being back on a baseball field.
That’s what missing an entire season following shoulder surgery will do to a player, especially one that has an opportunity to be the Yankees’ starting first baseman when the season opens in five months.
“It’s what I’ve always worked for,” Bird said. “In this game, you always have to earn it. You never know what can happen. I was going to go into this year trying to make the team and obviously this set me back a little bit. I have to prove to them that I’m healthy on a consistent basis. For me, it’s just about being myself and playing again, kind of putting this behind me.”
Bird hit .261 with 11 home runs, 31 RBI and an .871 OPS in 46 games as a rookie, showing the skills that made him one of the Yankees’ highly touted prospects of the past few years. He was expected to be a part of the team last season until a shoulder injury derailed him for the entire season, a frustrating development for Bird, who turns 24 on Wednesday.
For Bird, spring training can’t get here soon enough.
“I’m confident, for sure,” Bird said. “I’m excited and ready to get back in that clubhouse with those guys. That was the hardest thing for me, not being able to be there. Being back with those guys in the clubhouse, just on a regular schedule will be great.”
Mark Teixeira has retired, leaving Bird as the favorite to win the first-base job next spring. Tyler Austin will get his shot at the position, but general manager Brian Cashman indicated Monday that all things being equal, the Yankees expect Bird to break camp as the Opening Day first baseman.
“Bird has the higher ceiling, so if he’s playing at his best potential, hopefully he wins that job,” Cashman said. “If he needs more time, he can go to Triple-A if that’s necessary. … We’ll see what happens. On paper, Bird is the guy that we hope we were going to get back at full level that he was before the surgery.”
Bird is 11-for-58 (.190) this fall in a DH-only role, though he’s shown a good eye with 11 walks, resulting in a .329 on-base percentage. He admitted that playing every other day has impacted his ability to find consistency at the plate, but his mission in Arizona is simply to get reps and continue building strength in his surgically repaired shoulder.
“It’s good to be playing, good to be experiencing it now and then I’ll have an offseason to see what I need to work on and then really get ready to go in spring,” Bird said. “Not playing every day yet, but that’s not really the goal here. It’s about just playing again and knocking the rust off, just playing again and getting used to that.”
Bird won’t play first base here, and although he’s been on a throwing program for four months, he will throw to bases on a field Wednesday for the first time since last February’s surgery.
“That’s the last ‘check it off’ thing,” Bird said. “In my mind, coming here, I’m getting ready for next year. It’s completely different than it was last time for me. Obviously I have to prove to them that I can play, but this is about me getting ready for spring training for us to win games, plain and simple.”
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News